Important Things Versus Essential Things

Luke 10:38-42 records Jesus visiting the home of Mary and Martha. Martha is busy doing the work of a hospitable hostess with a large number of people in the house, and she asks Jesus to tell her sister to help with the workload. She receives an unexpected answer, however, when Jesus tells her that Mary is seeking after something more important. Jesus does not negate the importance of hospitality and looking after others’ needs, but he makes a distinction between things that are important and things that are essential.

Important Things in Our Lives

Think about the things on which we place emphasis in our lives? How do we spend our energy? What gets us worked up? In Genesis 6:5, God looks upon His Creation, and He sees a people entirely focused on wickedness. Our thoughts can be focused on how we can cheat others to our advantage – how we can forward ourselves at the expense of others. Amos 6 records God proclaiming woes upon those who take comfort in the luxuries, interested in nothing but their pleasures. He calls this worthless activity.

In contrast, others spend their lives in pursuit of important things. We might focus on taking care of our bodies, these vessels given to us by God. We may spend our time on intellectual pursuits, either in school or independently sought knowledge. Developing social graces is important to functioning in our society. Community service shows a sense of love and duty toward others. These are all things that are important. They are worthwhile in their own rights. These pursuits can produce good, respectable people. We cannot, however, pursue these at the expense of the essential things.

Recognizing the Essential

Are we as concerned about our inward man as our outward man? In Ecclesiastes 12, Solomon describes a time when our bodies will begin to wither, when we will have nothing to show for the work we have put into our bodies. He concludes that our bodies will return to dust, in verse 7, but our souls will return to God. I Timothy 4:8 reminds us that exercising our souls is more profitable than exercising our bodies.

Are we as concerned with developing our spirit as we are our minds. In Rome, linguistic eloquence and oratorical skills were given great respect. The intellect was king. In I Corinthians 1:18 records Paul describing how God’s plan can seem foolish to the intellectual. He goes on in chapter 2:5 where he describes his arguments as being absent of worldly wisdom or powerful speech to avoid their faith being in his words. In Colossians 1:9, Paul expresses his desire that Christians pursue spiritual wisdom and knowledge of God ‘s will.

Are we as concerned about seeking God’s approval as we are the approval of men. Acts 4 records the apostles being brought to trial for teaching, and verse 19 shows Peter answering his persecutors, saying that his interest is in serving God before man. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus warns us to be more concerned with God’s judgment than man’s. We need to be acceptable to our fellow man, but God’s acceptance supersedes all.

In terms of our service, do we prioritize saving the community as much as we do serving it? I Corinthians 2:2 records Paul stating that he assumes nothing of His listeners except their need for Christ. Romans 1:16 describes the gospel as God’s power to save. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, He not only looked after the physical needs of those around Him, but He always cared for their souls. There are many injustices around us, but we cannot put those before our mission to save the lost.


When we emphasize essentials over those things that are important to the world, we may not gain the respect of the world. We may be criticized, even by other Christians. In Haggai, the prophet’s message is to prioritize serving God and rebuilding His temple over the important details of the nation’s infrastructure and economy. We may receive criticism just as Martha criticized Mary. I Corinthians 4:3-5 reminds us that the standard by which we will ultimately be judges will be God’s – not man’s. The things we might see as essential may be important, but none of these things should ever be at the cost of the spiritual, the essential, the eternal.

lesson by Tim Smelser